Maguindanao massacre

SC upholds dismissal of complaint vs Army officials in Maguindanao massacre

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SC upholds dismissal of complaint vs Army officials in Maguindanao massacre

SUPREME COURT. The Supreme Court in Padre Faura, Manila, on December 5, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Supreme Court says the Ombudsman did not err because there was no sufficient evidence against two Army officials

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the Office of the Ombudsman’s dismissal of a graft complaint filed against two Army officials by the relatives of over two dozen journalists killed in the infamous 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

The SC’s 2nd Division found no grave abuse of discretion by the Ombudsman in dismissing the complaint against Army Major General Alfredo Cayton Jr. and Colonel Medardo Geslani, the commanders at that time of the 6th Infantry Division and 601st Infantry Brigade, respectively.

The petitioners had challenged the Ombudsman’s joint resolution and order on June 22, 2011 and October 2, 2012, respectively, which dismissed the complaint against the two Army officials. 

Specifically, Cayton and Geslani were accused of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and dereliction of duty by relatives of the 32 journalists who were killed in the November 23, 2009 ambush while covering a story about the gubernatorial bid of then-Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. 

The slain journalists’ relatives accused the military officials of failing to protect the media workers in the Mangudadatu convoy and acted “with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable neglect.” The officials, they alleged, deprived their relatives of government protection.

In contrast, they alleged, Geslani favored the Ampatuan political family by providing them security escorts while Cayton assigned soldiers to Mangudadatu’s rival, then-mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

They also alleged that Cayton and Geslani were aware of the grave threat the victims faced based on reports from their operatives and given the long-standing feud between the opposing political camps at that time.

In a 40-page decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen that was made public on Tuesday, June 25, the SC division stated that the Ombudsman was correct because the petitioners failed to present evidence to support their allegations. 

The SC pointed out that the military is prohibited from providing security escorts to candidates under a memorandum of agreement between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

It also rejected their argument that exceptions under the amended guidelines to the memorandum apply in cases of “exigency.” The Court said these exceptions are limited to “members of the Board of Election Inspectors, personnel of the Comelec, and other government employees performing election duties.”

The High Tribunal also affirmed the Ombudsman’s discretion to assess evidence during the preliminary investigation and found no grave abuse of discretion on its part when it concluded that there was no probable cause against the Army officials.

“All told, we refuse to deviate from the long-standing rule on noninterference with the Office of the Ombudsman’s determination of probable cause,” read part of the SC decision.

The SC noted, too, that there were contrasting claims, and that Cayton stated that no media member or civilian requested military escorts.

The contradicting claims, the SC division stressed, lead to “a question of fact, requiring the determination of whether the journalists really requested for security escort.”

It said, “This Court is not a trier of facts, more so in the extraordinary writ of certiorari where neither questions of fact nor even of law are entertained, but only questions of lack of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion can be raised.”

The SC said it focused on the central issue stemming from Mangudadatu’s request for security escorts, an account agreed upon by both parties and the basis of the challenged rulings from the Office of the Ombudsman. –

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